I'm Not Prejudiced, Am I? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

August 10, 2011
I’m not prejudiced.

I can’t be.

I was raised in a white upper middle-class household in the suburbs of southern New England, in a little town of 13,000. My parents had always reinforced the idea that all people, regardless of skin color, were equal. I had grown up on the Sesame Street scenes where Muppets of all colors played and lived together. Being part of a minority myself, I had always been sensitive to comments about race or religion, and I had always tried to get my peers to refrain from telling racist jokes, at least in front of me. I even remember teaching my younger sister, when only three years old, not to judge people by their looks. (“It doesn’t matter if you play with someone with green or purple or orange or brown skin, as long as they’re fun.”) So, it’s pretty safe to conclude I’m not prejudiced.

Or so I thought.

One summer I went to a program at Brown University. There I met a variety of people: black, Asian, Haitian, Hispanic. It was a great experience, since at my high school, there is little racial diversity. (Out of the 550 students there are only ten blacks and an equal number of Asians and Jews; the remainder of the population is white and Christian.) I took a literature course, and one of our focuses was the relationship between people and fear. We confronted issues of race, sexual preference, and religion: factors that make people different from each other, and thus, create fear. It was there that I first felt conflicting feelings about race and my own thoughts.

An African-American girl, Lia, explained the experiences that she had had to deal with because of her color. Suddenly a vicious thought came into my mind: Am I perfectly innocent? Do I hold prejudices that I refuse to confront? I had always tried to be the understanding liberal, the tolerant one who (supposedly) understands and sympathizes with all people. At that moment I remembered a conversation that I had had with my Hebrew tutor who asked me a question: If you were walking down a city street at night, and you saw a man walking toward you, would you be more frightened if the man were black instead of white? At the time, I thought myself totally unbiased, and I grappled with the question, finally coming to the conclusion that it wouldn’t make a difference. I truly believed what I was saying, but he was incredulous. “We have a fear of the unknown,” he said. “It’s natural. We can’t help it – human nature is to fear that which is not like you. I suspect that deep down, where you can’t or won’t look, you know who you would fear more.” I didn’t agree – I’m not prejudiced, remember?

But that fall as my mother drove me around a nearby city, I spotted three young black men. They seemed a bit “suspicious” to me, looking around as if to see if there was anyone watching them. As we drove by, one reached into his sock and pulled out something small. “That was a drug deal we just saw!” I remarked, sure I was right. My mother turned and looked, “He gave the man a piece of gum. Juicy Fruit.”

I was stunned. There I was – the unbiased, unprejudiced liberal – a racist. I had assumed that because they were young black men standing on the street corner, they had been exchanging drugs. I had made the assumption quickly, naturally. Without a doubt in my mind. Suddenly I was forced to face my own racism.

What I’m trying to say is that all of us, no matter how hard we try not to be, are human. I realize now that I, like everyone else, do fear that which is not like me. However, my realization does not make me cynical. Rather, it does the opposite. I now know that I am prejudiced, but, by recognizing this, I can at least hope to overcome it. I know who I am, and who I can become.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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